How supervision at Birmingham Council is an integral part of our workforce development

A feature sponsored by Birmingham City Council

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It’s not unfair to say that as the largest local authority in Europe, Birmingham City Council’s People’s Directorate is one of the toughest to run efficiently and effectively.

Our sole ambition is, and has always been, to provide the best possible care. To give others the best chance at a decent, ordinary life. The kind most of us take for granted.

Which is why we decided it was time to take a good look at ourselves. If we wanted to be better at helping others, we needed to make sure we were better at taking care of things a little closer to home.

It was this moment of clarity that led us on an exciting journey, one that’s helping us to transform the way we work, the way we look after our own people, and enabling us to shape the future of our organisation.

We’ve recently undergone a major restructure at senior level, which has seen us move from five, to three directorates. A pivotal moment that has allowed us to make big changes to the way the department operates, helping us to improve our service delivery, and most importantly, the morale of our people.

But the most fundamental change that we’ve implemented has been our approach towards our social workers. The key to our success lies with our ability to create a stable, balanced workforce – creating an environment where everyone is supported, at every step of their journey.

Peter Hay, strategic director of the People Directorate, has lead from the front in terms of our workforce development, engaging with staff and helping to change the culture within children’s services.

One critical part of this is how we’ve changed our approach to staff supervision.

Supervision lies at the very heart of improving the quality of social workers and the effect they have.

If we were to have any chance of truly affecting the lives of the people we were responsible for, we needed to make sure our own people had all the support they needed to do their jobs.

We had to do something radical.

And that’s exactly what we did.

Our old supervision management programme was far too complex, there was simply too much paperwork for our people to handle. Time was always against them. And as a result, not enough supervision was taking place.

So we stripped out the old structure, and put in a much more effective team based structure.

Now dedicated team managers provide monthly supervision and feedback to small teams of social workers. A community hub structure was put in place, consisting of two safeguarding teams and one family support team – resulting in closer working and a more connected approach to service delivery.

The effect has been as dramatic as it has been remarkable. With up to 88% (within six months) supervision per worker, there’s been a massive change in morale.

Our people are now given more attention to their learning and development, and with reduced caseloads and more discussion over cases there’s now a better balance and progression of cases, tracking and outcomes.

What’s more, the element of risk no longer sits squarely with the individual, it’s down to the organisation as a whole.

This new approach has enabled us to successfully recruit newly qualified social workers, in particular post graduates, and more efficiently help them to progress and develop through team manager supervision.

How do we ensure the system continues to work well? We supervise it!

Auditing takes place both internally, and externally, with multi agency and independent quality assurance. Staff engagement is checked at every stage of the process, to ensure our people are always on-board with what we’re trying to do, and that they’re always listened to.

We’ve come a long way on our journey of improvement, and we’ve been thoroughly recognised for our efforts in the Le Grand report. Even Ofsted acknowledged our improvements in this area.

But we will never stop trying to improve the way we do things. To challenge the ordinary and push for extraordinary. What we do really matters. And it’s how we do it that matters the most. Taking care of other people needs to start by taking care of your own.

The state of social work supervision in 2014 – Replay our live chat

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